Don’t miss the latest tragi-comedy unfolding in Karnataka.
IAS officer C Shikha, the Deputy Commissioner of Mysuru—equivalent of a district collector in other states—slaps a criminal case against a Congress leader close to Chief Minister Siddaramaiah on Monday. Reason: the Congress leader, K Marigowda, had the temerity to intimidate her in the very presence of Siddaramaiah on Sunday night.
And Shikha’s fault? She had not expedited the transfer of a tehsildar, who had incurred Marigowda’s wrath by seizing some land encroached by him. After Shikha lodges the police complaint, Marigowda runs to her husband Ajay Nagabhushan, another IAS officer and the Deputy Commissioner of the neighbouring Mandya district, and seeks his help. The husband refuses to interfere and Marigowda goes absconding. On Tuesday, women’s organisations promptly hold demonstrations demanding Marigowda’s arrest. On Wednesday, it leads to a ruckus in the state Legsialture.
On his part, Siddaramaiah is doing the only thing he can: holding his head and watching the blow-by-blow account of the row unravel on the local TV channels.
But Siddaramaiah is not new to situations in which he finds himself in a fix.
Less than a month ago, IPS officer Anupama Shenoy, the deputy superintendent of police in Kudligi in Bellary district, took on a mining baron and the liquor mafia as well as the ‘district-in-charge’ minister PT Parameshwar Naik all at once. Finally, she quit her job in disgust, noting on her Facebook page that Siddaramaiah was presiding over a ‘rum’ rajya.
Narendra Modi and Amit Shah might want to give a warm hug to Siddaramaiah. He is doing much more than any BJP leader can to make Karnataka a Congress-mukt state after the assembly elections in 2018. Karnataka is the only big state that the Congress rules now.
Though Siddaramaiah put down a rebellion in the Congress that flared up after his clumsy 19 June cabinet reconstitution, he continues to hog newspaper headlines and take up prime time on local television for, of course, the wrong reasons.
Sample these headlines:
-Illegal sand mining, land grab charges shake Siddaramaiah
-Housing site scam rocks Siddaramaiah
-Siddaramaiah makes book about himself a must-read in schools
-Siddaramaiah’s convoy blamed for ailing woman’s death
-Siddaramaiah changes car after a crow sits on it
Such an impressive array of media reports over a period of six months or even an year would have shaken the very ground under any chief minister’s feet. In the case of Siddaramaiah, all this happened in less than a month.
There is no knowing what turn Shikha’s case against Siddaramaiah’s aide would take.
But Anupama Shenoy hit the nail bang on its head when she said the Chief Minister was running a ‘rum’ rajya.
The liquor lobby is indeed the richest and the most powerful among all lobbies in Karnataka. And there are many: the mining, land, real-estate and education mafias.
Anupama can take comfort from the fact that Veerendra Patil lost his job as the state’s Congress Chief Minister in October 1990 after he locked horns with liquor tycoons. Rajiv Gandhi, then the Congress President, unceremoniously sacked Patil, an action that ultimately led to the party’s debacle in 1994.
No Chief Minister after Patil—of either the Congress, the Janata Dal (Secular) or the BJP—has been prepared to fight the lobbies. They fill the election coffers of all parties in varying proportions that depend on how they estimate each party’s winning chances.
The pressure groups even ensure their representation in the ministries and ride rough shod over officials who refuse to toe their line. Parties come and go, but lobbies stay on forever.
These lobbies have never had it as good as they do now in the current Congress regime. And for the parties, backing the moneybags seems the wisest thing to do, especially in times of political uncertainty.
Like the many lobbies, even the factions within the Congress have had a free-for-all so far. But right now they are seemingly at peace after the high-decibel revolt against Siddaramaiah following his cabinet reshuffle. Apparently, the rebels are lying low after senior state and central leaders advised caution and after the Chief Minister pampered some of them with all kinds of sops.
This truce, though tenuous, is also the result of the fact that when elections are only two years away and the party’s fate is hanging precariously in balance. No minister or MLA is ready to lose his position by precipitating a situation that may lead to assembly dissolution. Nobody wants a lose-lose scenario in politics.
Despite this artificial peace, undercurrents of dissidence against Siddaramaiah are there for all to see.
A principal cause of the current mess in the Congress in Karnataka is the weak central leadership and an even weaker state leadership. And the chief casualty of this disarray is the state’s governance, though Siddaramaiah goes through the motions of administration.
And even as Congressmen unravel their political burlesque, an occasional snippet of comedy is perpetrated on people. Siddaramaiah, for instance, changed his official car after a crow sat on it and refused to budge.
But nobody in Karnataka is laughing, except state BJP President BS Yeddyurappa.
Yeddyurappa has his own share of dissidence in his party—partymen are taking exception to the way he recently appointed office-bearers. Yet Yeddyurappa knows that, with former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal (Secular) falling apart because of an open rebellion, it’s the BJP that will become the biggest beneficiary of the current goings on.
The author's Twitter handle is @sprasadindia